Zip Code Anxiety

Is there anything worse than learning an ex has moved uncomfortably close to your neighborhood or office? Sure, cancer, starvation, paper cuts: all bad. But knowing the inopportunity to cross paths with someone from your past, especially when you're unprepared: the worst.
10/01/2014 02:46 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

"I have never Googled an ex; I would only be disappointed when I didn't find an obituary." -- Anonymous friend

Is there anything worse than learning an ex has moved uncomfortably close to your neighborhood or office? Sure, cancer, starvation, paper cuts: all bad. But knowing the inopportunity to cross paths with someone from your past, especially when you're unprepared: the worst.

Years back I dated someone in California, and it ended as soon as it began. At the unseasoned age of 24, I had the esteemed ability to warp a three-week affair into a full-fledged romance. I spent more time mourning the relationship's demise than actually dating this guy. I concede I was a fool. I've since married someone else who not only claims to love me but makes a much better (read: funnier) match than the aforementioned. I had forgotten about California Boy -- blocked that whimpering pathetic time out of my mind -- and moved on with only the rare passing thought of, "I wonder what that guy is up to."

Thankfully, social networking was in its infancy, and we never "friended" or "followed" one another, thus the out-of-sight-out-of-mind healing process worked wonders! That and excessive drinking. How in the world people now recover from their disappointing relationships with the bastard popping up on their newsfeed is beyond me. At the ripe old age of 32, I'm mystified by the lifestyle of those even five years younger than me.

So, there I am enjoying marital bliss or whatever floral words people use for consensual detainment, when I learn from a credible source (the internet) that my former infatuation, once safely tucked away on the left coast, is now head of some fancy pants company right here in Manhattan. In my own goddamn backyard. I felt secure with the eight or nine flyover states ensuring I'd never face an awkward encounter in precarious situations; as I mutter to myself squeezing avocados in Whole Foods, for example. Suddenly the safety had come off, and it was open season on "zip code anxiety."

Allow me to explain "zip code anxiety," a little known faction of Murphy's Law, wherein the subject aims to avoid contact with a previous offender yet subconsciously allures surprise encounters when said subject least expects it. It's the hope of successfully dodging your high school bully when you venture back home for major holidays, but they're seated two tables over at Chili's. It's spotting your boss from afar at the movies on a Saturday night, but bumping into her in the ladies' room. I know what you're thinking, "New York is overrun with an absurd amount of people. What the hell is the worry?" I'll tell you: I run into people on the street constantly. Friends, neighbors, college professors, old co-workers, acquaintances, friends who live in completely different states, you name it. Perfect example: I worked as a temp at an enormous cable network back in '07 where a guy with whom I had relations years prior also worked. The office building has over 40 stories and three separate elevator banks; I assumed the likelihood of a run-in was rare, but lo! In my brief time performing menial filing tasks, we traveled in the same elevator no less than a half dozen times. Do you have any idea how difficult it is to upkeep crowded elevator etiquette amongst strangers while feigning well-adjustment, success and mental stability in front of someone who lived in your pants for over a year? And as a temp!? Impossible!

So, great. Fantastic. I'll continue scanning the pedestrians on the streets with the indecision of how to approach the inevitable. Statistically, this worry will dissolve and over time, and I'll forget my unrest. Yet, zip code anxiety will overthrow me, and California Boy will spot me on the street on the day I've left the house with a pulsing scarlet zit at the end of my nose wearing an ill-fitting shirt while eating a messy cheeseburger with toppings that have just fallen onto my lap.

So you see, this really is worse than a paper cut.